Theories swirled and opinions varied; many thought Marvin wanted to die and that his father was merely a pawn in his plans. In a jailhouse interview, Marvin Sr told the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner: “I pulled the trigger. The first one didn’t seem to bother him. He put his hand up to his face, like he’d been hit with a BB. And then I fired again. I was backing towards my room. I was going to go in there and lock the door. This time I heard him say, ‘Oh,’ and I saw him going down. I do know that I did fire the gun. I was just trying to keep him back off me. I want the world to know it wasn’t presumptuous on my part." Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his father on April 1, 1984, 1 day before his 45th birthday.
Marvin was born on April 2, 1939 in Washington, DC. His father, Marvin Sr, was a storefront congregation preacher and his mother worked as a maid. The congregation folded and his father never held much of a real job thereafter. Marvin’s father is described as being a cruel, abusive, moody man. He subjected his 4 children to many prohibitions, including no dancing, popular music, or athletics. He beat the children frequently. Marvin’s mother was of the exact opposite nature, consoling and praising her children, trying to counter the abuse. As a young boy, Marvin suffered a great deal of pain, physically and mentally, at the hands of his father. Marvin Gay Sr was effeminate and a cross-dresser. Marvin professed to have the same interest.
Marvin learned to play piano as a child, encouraged by his mother, and was allowed to play religious music in the home. He played by ear and was a natural talent. As a teenager, he learned how to play the drums and began to sing. He was a high school dropout who briefly joined the US Air Force, but it didn’t afford him the escapism for which he was searching. He feigned mental illness to receive an honorable discharge. Upon leaving the service, he returned to Washington and joined a band. He got his big break in 1960 when he met Motown founder Barry Gordy in Detroit while on tour. He joined Motown as a recording artist and married Anna Gordy, Barry’s elder sister. The marriage was turbulent, and they had trouble conceiving a child. They faked a pregnancy and adopted a son (Marvin III).
Marvin abused drugs, had started using cocaine heavily, and spent his life in debt in spite of the fact that he earned millions of dollars. He behaved recklessly in his life and his career. He would miss work and concert dates. He began an affair with Janice Hunter when she was 16 and he was 33. She became pregnant and they had 2 children together. Marvin and Anna divorced in 1977 and he married Janice a few months later.
His new marriage didn’t improve his situation. His cocaine abuse started taking a toll on his health in addition to his wallet. He avoided paying taxes and made irresponsible investments. He was a misogynist and beat women whom he loved. Marvin became suicidal and tried to overdose on cocaine. He encouraged his wife to take part in kinky and degrading sadistic sex. The second marriage became brutally violent.
As a result of his behavior, his relationship with Motown disintegrated and his contract was sold to CBS. He moved to Europe briefly to regroup and recorded Sexual Healing in an attempt to rebound his career. A brief tour was scheduled to follow. He became paranoid and hired multiple bodyguards for protection, fearing that a hit man would be coming to assassinate him or that someone was trying to poison him.
Marvin was exhausted from the tour and returned to his parent’s home in Los Angeles on its conclusion to recuperate. However, instead of getting better, he just got worse. There was an enormous amount of tension between Marvin and his father. Despite the disagreements, Marvin chose to give his father a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson gun. Marvin and his father had a heated dispute on April 1, 1984 where things turned violent. His father got the Smith & Wesson and shot him in the chest. Marvin collapsed to the floor and his father pulled the trigger a second time. Marvin Gaye was taken to the California Hospital Medical Center and pronounced dead. The official cause of death was “gunshot wound to the chest perforating heart, lung and liver.”
His father was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Marvin’s autopsy indicated he had drugs in his system at the time of death. An examination of his father found he had bruises on his body, reportedly inflicted by Marvin just before the shooting. Further, doctors diagnosed Gay Sr with a brain tumor. He pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, and only served 5 years’ probation for the murder of his son. His wife divorced him after 47 years of marriage and he lived out his life in a rest home until his death in 1998 of pneumonia, estranged from his family.
More than 10,000 people attended Marvin Gaye’s funeral in Los Angeles.
- Gaye, Marvin. Encyclopedia website. 2006. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2550300062.html.
- Krajicek D. The life and death of Marvin Gaye. Crime Library website. http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/celebrity/marvin_gaye/index.html.
- Marvin Gaye is shot and killed by his own father. History website. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marvin-gaye-is-shot-and-killed-by-his-own-father.
- Marvin Pentz Gay Sr. Murderpedia website. http://murderpedia.org/male.G/g/gay-marvin-pentz.htm.